Latest News - Public not being told about threat to UK forests from big energy

Public not being told about threat to UK forests from big energy
Wed, Aug 17, 2011

An industry group whose members are themselves under threat from subsidies paid to ‘big energy’ under the Government’s Renewable Energy Policy, are concerned that the public are not being told the full story behind the policy that in reality rewards electricity generators to burn UK forests.


Alistair Kerr, Director General of the Wood Panel Industries Federation said, “We saw how much the British public value our forests when the Government tried to sell them off. Now instead, the public themselves are paying through their energy bills for companies to take wood direct from UK forests and turn it into woody biomass, burning it to fuel electricity generators. 


Currently, there are 58 wood burning biomass plants either in existence, granted planning permission or awaiting approval across the whole of the UK. Of these, 35 have a capacity of up to 50MW . It is these that even the Government has admitted will look towards UK forests for their wood.1


The total demand from these ‘lower capacity’ power stations will be 7.2 million tonnes of wood a year. The UK only produces between 10-11 million tonnes of wood annually. 


Much of that is already consumed by UK manufacturers, such as the wood panels industry, to produce everyday items that are used in , building and construction, furniture and other associated industries. These manufacturers will find themselves priced out of the UK wood market thanks to the extra buying power of subsidies given to electricity generators.


The other 23 woody biomass burning plants existing, approved or proposed, will work at capacities of between 50 and 750Mw. These will require over 43.5 million tonnes of wood each year to operate. 


One of them, RWE NPower’s Port of Tilbury plant will need 7.5 million tonnes alone, and only this week, the Government consented to planning permission for energy giant Drax, to build two new wood burning power plants that will require 6 million tonnes of wood.


Wood from forests across the world will have to be shipped to the UK and then burnt.  However, the UK is not the only country doing this...there are woody biomass plants being built and planned across the world and they will all want wood from our forests.


When wood is used properly, it retains carbon for the length of its lifetime which in construction can be in excess of 60 years. This period can be extended by a further 30 to 40 years by reusing and recycling  which is already common practice by the wood panel industry.


Using woody biomass to produce electricity will immediately release stored carbon into the atmosphere. Far from producing ‘renewable energy’, it will take many years before any new trees planted to replace the burned wood are able to store the equivalent amount of carbon.


Alistair Kerr concluded, “The government has failed to disclose to the public that generators like Drax, E.ON, RWE NPower and Scottish and Southern Energy will use the subsidy paid by taxpayers to source as much wood as they can from the UK before venturing further afield.


“If allowed to continue unchecked, not only are the UK’s wood processing industries at serious risk of being wiped out thereby putting at risk tens of thousands of jobs, but the forests that the British public care deeply about will be decimated – and it is the public that will have paid for it to happen.”



1.DECC Review of the Generation costs and deployment potential of renewable electricity technologies in the UK, June 2011 (Section 10.4.2 Dedicated biomass (Solid), page 111)

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